Friday, January 29, 2010

In which we do a reality check about Stephanie

October 2006 I meet Stephanie for the first time when we have our Meet the Parents Tour. All I know about her is what I have heard from Primo via Sly and Doris: She's lazy. Fat. Speaks improperly.* Doesn't cook. Doesn't expose her children to Culture. Bad Mother. Bad Person. Woe is us that Jack brought such a Lowlife into the family. And their wedding. Trashy. Can you believe how trashy it was? All that food! And the dancing! And the way the people were dressed!

This from people who cannot leave a surface uncovered with tchotchkes - mainly frogs - in their own house and thought pressed board tables with hummingbirds were the height of elegance.

But I digress. I meet Sly and Doris and they are cold and rude to me. Then Primo takes me to Stephanie and Jack's house. They are still married. The divorce doesn't come until next year. I don't know if Stephanie has started her affair. No, an affair is not a good thing. I am not excusing it but I will tell you that there is more to that story. It's not my story and I don't feel comfortable telling it here, but if Stephanie and I ever collaborate on a book, trust me, you will want to buy it because wow is there a lot of stuff when you throw in Jack's mother (Sly's first wife) and her second husband. Let's just say buy stock in Jack Daniels and leave it at that.

So. My first meeting with Stephanie. What happens?

She opens her arms, grabs me, hugs me, says, "I finally get to meet you! Come over here! Let's talk!"

She is interested in me. In my life. How did Primo and I meet? Are we getting married? We don't know yet? We've been dating a year! Come on! Where am I from? What about my family? Can Primo and I come over for supper? Oh, why can't we spend more time together?

I like her.

And I am suspicious when I hear the stories about Stephanie's many failings as Primo and I continue to date and then marry. They do not jibe with the Stephanie I am getting to know. Shortly after Primo and I marry, Sly has a serious medical problem and needs daily help that Doris cannot give. Stephanie calls every day to ask what she can do. Sly and Doris do not accept Stephanie's help but complain that Jack does not offer.

"If they want Jack, why don't they just ask him?" I ask Primo.

"They think he should call them," Primo answers.

"So they'd rather complain than call him? And why won't they accept Stephanie's help?"

Primo shrugs. "I don't know."

"I think I know. I think if they take her help, they will feel guilty about trash talking her all the time."

We visit for Thanksgiving in 2008. The "I never did like the white meat" Thanksgiving. After hearing Sly and Doris complain about how Stephanie doesn't cook for her kids - how she gets home from work and just makes them sandwiches or the like and again, she is a Bad Mother - I decide to do some investigating. Primo and I take the kids bowling. It's his tradition with Michael, Maria and Pia. I casually ask the kids what they eat for supper.

"Oh, pot roast. Salad. Meatballs and gravy. My mom is an awesome cook."

"Every night?" I ask.

"Yes," they answer, puzzled as to why I would ask such a dumb question. Of course their mother makes them supper every night. She's their mother. They eat supper. Duh.

That evening, back at the ranch, Sly launches into another diatribe about how Stephanie does not feed the kids decent meals. Just gives them hotdogs and sandwiches. I can't stand it.

"You know, Sly, that's not true. I asked the kids about that today. Stephanie cooks. She makes meals. I don't know where you got your information."

Primo nods in agreement. I leave the room before I say anything to make things worse. But I am tired of hearing Stephanie maligned.

I tell Stephanie this story in December. She laughs. "They just want to believe what they want to believe about me. They still complain that Maura and I don't know how to load a dishwasher! We loaded it that once and it got clogged not because of how we loaded it but because it's a crappy dishwasher. I know how to load a dishwasher! Maura knows how to load a dishwasher!"

She's right. I've heard the complaint about the dishwasher. It was years ago. And yet the story lives. Honestly.

She continues. "I was there once and Doris wanted me to make the broccoli. I knew that no matter how I made it, they wouldn't like it, so I just told her I didn't know how to cook broccoli. And she believed that! So whatever."

* You know - with a specific regional accent. Let's say a New Orleans accent. That's not it but for the sake of this blog, I am changing names and certain facts, not that Sly and Doris wouldn't recognize the events I describe here. Or maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they think that everyone's family is like this.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In which Primo goes to a funeral

Summer 2009 Sly calls. Or emails. Probably emails. They don't call us. We're supposed to call them. Well, Primo is supposed to call them. Not me. Why don't they call? Because they feel as if they are "interrupting." I don't know why they would get that feeling. Primo always answers their calls. Always. Always always always. He worries that if they are calling, it's because something is wrong. My philosophy is that is someone is dead, he'll still be dead in the morning, especially halfway across the country. Oh. Maybe it's because when they do call, they call at suppertime. Could that be it? Perhaps.

Primo is supposed to call them. If he doesn't make his weekly mandatory call, he gets a passive aggressive? angry? martyred? whiney? wondering if something is wrong, hoping everything is OK because honey, we didn't hear from you email. "I don't know why they just can't pick up the phone and call me for a change," he mutters.

Anyway. Sly's sister's husband has died. Sly wants to go to the funeral but traveling is tough for him. Will Primo go as the family representative?

Let me point out here that the last time Primo saw Uncle Joe and anybody from the family was two years ago at Uncle Tom's funeral.

The last time he saw Uncle Joe or Uncle Tom or any of the associated relatives before Uncle Tom's funeral was when he was in high school.

Primo tells me about the request. He is super busy at work.

"Why can't Ted go? He lives two hours from Uncle Joe," I point out. "He could go there and back in a day." If Primo goes, it will be a flight, a rental car, two nights in a hotel. His work will not stop. His father does not seem to understand this about Primo's job: that someone does not take over Primo's work when Primo takes time off. The work just accumulates, waiting for Primo's return.

Primo acknowledges the logic of my point and mentions it to his father.

"Ted says he can't afford it," Sly answers.

"Wait. Sly was prepared to spend the money to fly himself up there and get a car and a hotel but he can't send Ted $100 for the train?" I sputter.

Primo says, "My dad says that Ted isn't really part of our family. He wants me to represent them."

My head spins. "What does he mean, 'Ted isn't part of this family?' Isn't Joe Ted's uncle as much as he is yours?"

Primo shifts uncomfortably. "Yes."

"Your dad is a jerk," I say.

How can a father say something like that? "Ted isn't really part of this family?" What a horrible thing to say. As bad as telling Primo that Ted and Jack have been a great disappointment to Sly. You don't say things like that to your kids. You don't violate boundaries that way. You don't betray your children like that.

But Sly knows no boundaries. He is a master manipulator. Only you, Primo, are worthy. Only you, Primo, can save us. No, of course I can't send $100 to Ted to do this task. You must take $500 of your own money that could be spent on your mortgage and take two days of your own time and fly to the funeral.

You are the only one who can do this. Only you. You, Primo, the rescuer. Your brother can't possibly do this. If you don't do this, that means you don't really love us and haven't we suffered enough with your sister's mental illness and death? You owe us. You're healthy and alive, so you owe us. Plus you have betrayed us by marrying That Woman, so you have to do everything we want to make up for that.

Sly and Doris don't think that Primo's spending the money on plane fare, a car and hotel to go as their representative to a funeral for someone he saw once in the past 25 years counts as part of his obligation to them and I think it does, as does Primo.

I am still waiting for them to send us a check to pay for Primo's expenses.

I am not holding my breath.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In which Primo discovers it's important to read the fine print

Once upon a time, Primo, who is one of the nicest guys in the world, and who went to college when he was 16 years old, and was graduated a few days before he turned 20, and who was not shall we say, wise to the ways of women, especially women who might be on the lookout for a Nice Guy with High EP*, met a woman.

Primo had not had many dates. He'd had crushes, especially on Sally, who led him on a merry chase, always teasing, teasing, teasing, if you know what I mean and I think you do. I will say this: Sally is doing much better now that she is on lithium, but she did just recently start an affair, divorce her third husband and marry her fourth (the two in the affair tango), all in just five months, leaving Primo to muse that although Sally is probably the best kisser he has ever kissed, she is also the biggest bullet he has ever dodged.

I might be putting words into his mouth, but he undoubtedly feels that way, don't you honey?

Primo met Isabel . Isabel was cute. I've seen the photos. Adorable. Petite, cute little figure. Pretty face. Pretty smile. And she had two cute daughters. She needed to be rescued. Primo is a rescuer. He has had that tendency beaten out of him, although I have to remind him occasionally that even though he might be accustomed to being around incompetent or mentally ill women, I ran my own life just fine for the 42 years before I met him and I am perfectly capable of putting dishes away without his supervision. Or of washing them. Or of paying bills. Or of buying groceries.

But I digress. Primo was still in the rescuing business. And Isabel was cute. And probably talked a good game. She was in sales. Told Primo she had some hotshot job. Sure, she lived with her mom, but that was so the girls had some stability. She said.

They married after nine months of dating.

Despite Sly and Doris' advice against the marriage.

You just knew they'd be against it, didn't you?

But even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Isabel was 36, Primo was 24. They'd known each other just a year. They did not go through any pre-marital counseling at all.

See any red flags?

Here's what Primo discovered after they married and what would have kept him from marrying Isabel had he known:

Isabel ex didn't pay child support and she had no intention of pursuing it, even though it was in the divorce decree.
Isabel had never gotten a social security number for her ten year old daughter.
Isabel's fancy job? Yeah. Not so fancy. She made almost no money and was mooching off her mom.
Isabel had not filed a tax return for the past several years.

What do you do when you are 24 years old and you've made a huge mistake but you are an honorable man and you have made a vow that you intend to keep because it's not just you and Isabel but there are also two little girls who are depending on you now? How many years do you help the girls with their homework and make their breakfast and their supper and take them to school before you finally say, "Enough?" because their mother is not what you thought she was?

You stay married way too long. You don't get an immediate annulment or a divorce.

Of all the places you visit your friend and college roommate Sam as he moves in his career, the only one you don't visit is Cincinnati, which is the one place where he and That Woman, who is a friend of Sam's from their on-campus college job, happen to be at the same time post college, which would have been the only opportunity post college for you and That Woman to meet when you were still in your 20s. You didn't meet in college because you were drinking and That Woman had a boyfriend, so she was busy doing other stuff.

Hence, you and That Woman don't meet until your 20 year college reunion, three years after you and Isabel separate. Now burned, you have learned your lesson. You date three years before marrying. Go to pre-marital counseling. Talk, talk, talk about the money. About everything.

If only you'd met sooner.

* Earning Potential, which is what young engineers in Silicon Valley were back in the day, the day being the late 80s.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In which Sly tells Primo that I am a bad bacon eater

Autumn 2007 It's a year since I met Sly and Doris. They do not like me any better now than they did then. I want them to like me. People like me. They do. Why don't Sly and Doris like me? I was polite. I took a hostess gift. I helped with the dishes. I sent a thank you note. What did I do wrong?

I know there is the blog, but it's not like I am a raving lunatic, name calling or anything. I write about my garden and why haven't I won the yard of the month award and how there is a grand conspiracy keeping me from winning it. But I don't really mean that there is a conspiracy. It's satire, people. Satire.

And occasionally I make reference to political issues, so Sly and Doris know where I stand. I know where they stand. I know where my friends stand. As a matter of fact, I have many friends, Primo included, who are almost opposite of me on political issues and yet we get along. But Sly and Doris seem to be quite unhappy that we do not share the same political beliefs. Why can't we all get along? is what I say. Tolerance. Tolerance.

But they do not like me. And I don't know how to make them like me. I have failed. What am I doing wrong?

Primo has one of his weekly mandatory phone calls. Finishes. "How was it?" I ask.

"I'm not sure I should tell you this," he says.

"Tell me," I say, dreading what I might hear.

"My dad said something about you."

Great, I think. Now what?

"He's unhappy about something that happened last year when we were visiting."

"What did I do?" I ask. I can't think of anything that was exceptionally rude. Mildly - like barely hardly noticeable - rude, yes. But so rude that it had to fester for a year before it could be addressed yet of a code so bizarre that I wouldn't even notice? What on earth could that be?

"When he made breakfast that Sunday - remember? - eggs and bacon - he didn't like that you picked the fat off your bacon and just ate the lean."

I'm waiting for the rude part. "Um-hmm."

Primo says nothing.

"That's it?"


"Wait. You mean your father has been upset about how I eat my bacon for a year?"

"Yes. He said it was an insult to the host."

"Your dad is full of crap."


"And you were worried about telling me this?"



"Because I thought it might upset you."

"What?" I am silent as I think about this. Am I upset? Yes. This is stupid. STUPID. He doesn't like me because of the way I eat my bacon? What's wrong with how I eat my bacon? I don't want the fat. So sue me. Primo eats it, so it's not like the fat is going to waste, and even if it were, so what? So the heck what? This coming from the man who ATE MY CARR VALLEY CHEESE EVEN THOUGH HE IS LACTOSE INTOLERANT? AND DIDN'T EVEN DRINK ALL THE LACTAID I HAD TO BUY FOR HIM?

Yes. I am a wee bit upset.

Just a little.

But in a good way.

Because you know what?

I have realized something.

I have been trying to make someone who is completely irrational like me.

And it's never going to happen.

Because he dislikes me for reasons that cannot be fixed. For reasons that have nothing to do with me. He has decided he is not going to like me no matter what and is looking for excuses for that dislike.

He doesn't like how I eat bacon? He's been thinking about that for a year? A YEAR? Yes, I know I am shouting. But honestly. BAD BACON EATING? As a basis for disliking someone?

You'd be shouting too.

The realization is liberating. I don't have to make him like me. I can't make him like me. He won't like me. Ever.

The only thing I can do is be sure to cut the fat off every single piece of meat that crosses my plate any time I am around him. And that's what I do. Revenge is a dish best eaten lean.

Monday, January 25, 2010

In which we get worse presents than the hummingbird tables

December 2009 We are at Sly and Doris' house. It is not Christmas. It is the weekend before Christmas. I don't want to be there but it is easier for us to suck it up and go for a long weekend than for Primo to be subjected to endless rounds of telephone torture. Which he will get anyhow, but at least now he can throw down the card of, "Hey. I did visit you before Christmas so shut up already." Only of course he would never be that mean.

I would. But I don't talk to Sly and Doris. Not that they want to talk to me either, so we are even.

We have paid $500 for the tickets to fly to their place. Why we didn't use frequent flyer miles I don't know. Probably something about Primo needing to get to a certain status and the flight being cheap enough for me that it didn't make sense to use the FF miles.

We have a rental car. Because of course Sly can't come pick us up at the airport. No. That would be inconvenient. Fortunately, because Primo travels about 460% of the time for his job, he has some free Hertz days coming to him so we do not have to pay for the car.

In addition to paying to fly to visit Sly and Doris, we have bought them a Christmas present. As if spending $500, or half a mortgage payment, isn't enough. We are getting them some decent knives. When we visit, we take over the heavy lifting in the kitchen. Doris has arthritis and it is hard for her to cut and chop and peel. I actually don't mind doing the cooking because it gives me something to do. But I do not like working with bad equipment and not only are their knives bad, they are dull. I am not interested in hurting myself just for supper.*

And then Primo, whose vacation has been slashed, is taking precious vacation days for this trip. He will spend those days doing his parents' chores. Because there is nobody where they live, including their cleaning lady, Jack, or their 16-year-old grandchildren who are interested in earning some cash, who can 1. vacuum their closets, 2. dust their ceiling fans, 3. clean around the cat box, or 4. organize their garage.

Got the picture? Plane fare. Knives. Vacation days. Chores.

We sit down one evening to open presents. Doris tells us about mailing presents to Ted and Maura. "I hope the box of gourmet cheese got there in time," she frets. "They're having company."

"Gourmet cheese!" I say. "What a cool present! I would love to get gourmet cheese!"

And I would. I would like it better than hummingbird tables. Or a custom jigsaw puzzle of a map of our neighborhood.

Odd, though, because when I tell Stephanie about this later, she says, "Why would Doris send cheese to Ted? He's the one who got them started on this lactose intolerance crap. He claims that he's lactose intolerant."**

We have already given the knives to Doris, who seems pleased. She has used them. Sly, however, wants to use his old knives that they got as a wedding present. When Jack comes over for supper one night, Sly hands the wedding knife to him for carving. Jack, who is a chef, spies the new knife. As soon as Sly steps out of the room, Jack whispers to Primo, "Hand me the new one." Jack is no fool.

Back to the present opening. This is a good sign - that Doris has sent cheese to Ted. Or is it? Cheese is good, but is giving cheese to someone who is lactose intolerant a good sign?

She hands a box to Primo. He opens it.

It's a framed photo.

Of Sly and Doris.

"Here's another frame if you don't like that one," Doris says.

Primo takes the frame and holds it next to the photo. "Which one do you like, honey?" he asks me.

"Oh, you pick," I answer.

"No, you!" he says.

"Oh, I think you should decide," I say.

"But don't you have a preference?" he insists.

"Really. You pick," I smile.

"Which one?" he pushes.

"I. Don't. Care." I answer through gritted teeth because that photo is going to hang in his office where I will never see it so I really do not care.

And he knows this and wants to torture me so asks again. "Oh come on. Which frame looks better? The dark one or the light one?"

Just to get him to be quiet, I say, "Oh the dark one."

And I think, "That's it? That's our Christmas present? A photo of the two people who hate me and told their son not to marry me and who badmouth me to him? The people who give me a 12-day migraine?"

No! Of course that's not it!

Doris passes Primo another box.

He opens it.

It contains a cast-iron cat.

Our Christmas is complete.

* I can't hurt myself for lunch because remember, they do not eat lunch.

** Doris and Sly's fridge contains cheese, cream cheese, and yogurt. And Lactaid.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In which lactose intolerant Sly and Doris eat our expensive cheese

September 2008 I know you want to know what happened with the Christmas presents, but first you have to know about the cheese. Trust me. It's part of the plot.

Sly and Doris are going to spend NINE DAYS at our house for our wedding. Yes. Despite their vow that they will not attend the wedding (I will tell you that whole saga eventually), Primo convinces them to come. Even though I am all, Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya. NINE DAYS, y'all. NINE DAYS.

"They're lactose intolerant," Primo tells me. "They drink Lactaid."

"Ask them if soy milk is OK," I say. "I have to get that for my mom and sister anyhow."

My mom and sister are lactose intolerant enough that the teeniest bit of milk or cheese or ice cream makes them very uncomfortable. They can't drink Lactaid. When my sister and I were in Italy, she just looked longingly at the gelato. And the cheese. My mom accidentally ate some of the Parmesan cheese in the salad at our wedding supper and spent the night miserable.

Primo checks. No, soy milk is not OK. Lactaid. Lactaid only. I buy Lactaid. The smallest unit in which Lactaid is available is half a gallon. Lactaid? Is not cheap.

Sly and Doris have a little bit of Lactaid with their cereal in the morning.*

They do not eat lunch. I mean, ever. They don't eat lunch. We'll discuss this again in a future post.

At 5:00, they have Snack.

Snack = Bourbon. A lot of bourbon.

Plus cheese.

Cheese? you ask.

But how does one who is lactose intolerant eat cheese?

Well that is the question du jour is it not?

And not just any cheese, but our expensive Carr Valley cheese that we eat sparingly. You know - not as a MEAL but as a true snack.

But if you haven't had anything to eat since 8:00 a.m. because you don't eat lunch, you're going to be hungrier than the average person, so you are going to fill up on cheese, even if you are allegedly lactose intolerant.

So they fill up on cheese. That they want Primo, who usually works from about 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.,** to cut up for them. That, to keep the darn peace, he does.

And then, at 7:30 p.m., when I have supper ready - steak, roasted chicken - guess what? Oh, we're not that hungry, dear. You really didn't need to go through all that trouble for us.***

By the time they leave, they have used only about three cups of the Lactaid.

* I will tell you the oatmeal story later. About how I did not offer oatmeal to Sly. And how that made me a bad hostess.

** On a good day.

*** Oh yeah right like I wouldn't have heard about it via Primo if I had just thrown together something light and easy for supper.